London - Arsene Wenger may have lost his voice before
Arsenal's home match with Stoke City on Sunday but the discussion over his
future is unlikely to be silenced just yet.
At the end of the season Wenger will be halfway through a
two-year contract many Gunners fans felt should never have been handed in the
first place to a man who had not won the Premier League since 2004.
The 68-year-old declared during the international break that
many of his critics were simply guilty of age discrimination rather than a
genuine unhappiness with Arsenal's current position.
North London giants Arsenal will kick off in sixth position,
13 points adrift of fourth-placed local rivals Tottenham Hotspur, and therefore
in danger of missing out on the Champions League for a second successive
Yet the Gunners can still pin their hopes on emulating
Manchester United and qualifying for Europe's elite trophy next term by winning
the Europa League.
The visit of second-bottom Stoke is the third in a five-game
sequence of home fixtures, with the first leg of the Europa League last-16
clash with CSKA Moscow following on Thursday.
Wenger's throat problems saw assistant manager Steve Bould
hastily thrust into media duties, and the former Arsenal defender, who also
played for Stoke, his hometown club, was reluctant to take on the Frenchman's
mantle of providing intelligent yet often controversial commentary about all
aspects of the game.
The only game Bould wanted to talk about was the Stoke one,
but he did offer an insight into how Arsenal fans' unrest was perceived from
"I admire him immensely," Bould said of Wenger.
"He takes unbelievable stick off an awful lot of people and he's just one
of the great managers. It's a pleasure for me to sit next to him.
"He's remarkable. Behind closed doors I've never known
someone who's as hungry and determined to win football games. It's as big as
I've ever seen. He's doing a great job, as far as I'm concerned and has done a
great job for an awfully long time."
There are many Arsenal fans who feel Wenger, appointed
Arsenal manager in September 1996, has overstayed his welcome for an awfully
long time, or that the title drought has been both awful and prolonged, but
Bould was confident there would be plenty to cheer about before the end of the
"The more games we can win now the better the season
becomes and what happens in the end is what happens," he said.
Jack Wilshere has recovered from the knee problem that
forced him to miss England's friendlies with the Netherlands and Italy and
striker Alexandre Lacazette is also back in full training following injury. The
pair are more likely to be on the bench than start, however.
Meanwhile Stoke manager Paul Lambert believes midfielder Joe
Allen is so full of energy he could still star against Arsenal after rushing
back from China.
Allen has been hugely influential in midfield since Lambert
took over in December and recently featured in Wales' 6-0 win against the hosts
and their 1-0 defeat by Uruguay in a tournament in China.
"It wouldn't surprise me if Joe Allen ran back from
China and is still fit as a fiddle. He's really brilliant - a manager's
dream," said Lambert.
"I don't know how he does it. I spoke to him after his
long flight and it was a breath of fresh air talking to him - he looked great
and he was in a good mood.
Relegation-threatened Stoke are three points shy of safety
and go to the Emirates bidding to end a run of nine straight defeats at
At least Lambert knows how to win there, having guided Aston
Villa to a 3-1 success in August 2013.
"For me, it's fresh so I'm not thinking we haven't won
there - I don't have anything in my head... just try to win," he said.